I have returned to work after my injury – should I still lawyer up?
Even if you have returned to work after suffering an injury, it is important to arm yourself with all the knowledge you can about your rights and entitlements. This is why you should seek advice from a qualified lawyer who is an expert in Workers Compensation.
In this article, we will use the example of Barry the barista to expose the myth that you do not need a lawyer’s advice after you have returned to work following a work-related injury.
Barry the Barista
Through over a decade in the business, Barry became well known in the Melbourne coffee industry for his latte art. In late 2018, Barry secured a job at Insta-Coffees. Over a period of a few months on the job, Barry encountered rude customers some of which would yell at him if he didn’t make their coffee fast enough. He began to feel stressed and anxious when at work and even at the thought of going to work. He had difficulty sleeping and developed poor appetite. It is fair to say that the customers’ behaviour resulted in Barry’s mental health declining significantly. Eventually, Barry consulted his general practitioner and was diagnosed with a psychiatric condition related to work stress.
Barry lodged a WorkCover claim which was accepted by WorkCover. He received his entitlements under the WorkCover scheme and after a few months off work, Barry was given the go-ahead from his doctor to return to work. Barry’s employer modified his duties and limited him to having no customer interaction. Unfortunately, simply being in a café environment caused Barry’s anxiety and depression to flare up. As a result, Barry was not able to continue working and required treatment from a psychologist and a psychiatrist.
After several sessions with his trusted psychologist Penny, Barry decided he should return to work after four months on stress leave. This time when he attempted to return to work Barry felt different. He would get panic attacks whenever he walked into Insta-Coffees and would shake whenever he touched a mug. Barry tried everything - even changing cafes but he continued to experience significant anxiety. After speaking to Penny, he decided that he would not be able to return to that type of work. Barry’s career as a barista was well and truly over.
Barry’s career change
As per the suggestion of his psychologist and the WorkCover insurer’s doctor, Barry tried to retrain in an office administration role but he was unable to focus and stay at work. His anxiety would peak whenever he smelled coffee, which was common in the bank he was now working in. Eventually, Barry quit that job too.
Barry’s situation is a common one where a return to an alternative type of work does not necessarily mean that your injury will remain stable once you do so. Sometimes the injury will persist and may pose life-long consequences. It is therefore important to know and understand your rights and entitlements to further compensation.
Barry for example will likely not be able to work in a café again, potentially ending his career as a barista. With the help of a qualified lawyer, Barry may be able to receive a lump sum payout or damages from a common law claim.
Since Barry’s WorkCover claim was accepted, he is entitled to receive weekly payments for 130 weeks if he is unfit to return to his job as a barista. In order to receive these payments, Barry must have provide his employer with a certificate of capacity from his treating practitioner. The certificate will provide a diagnosis of Barry’s work-related injury and list his work restrictions. The first certificate of capacity must be no longer than 14 days in duration, whereas each subsequent certificate may be 28 days in duration.
Barry’s employer’s WorkCover insurer should pay reasonable medical expenses. Reasonable medical and like expenses can include, psychological and psychiatric treatment, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, radiological investigations, medication, travel expenses to and from medical appointments, home help, vocational assistance and retraining. In order for these expenses to be payable they must be considered reasonable, necessary and related to Barry’s work injury.
Impairment benefits claim
If Barry is suffering from a work-related injury, which has resulted in a permanent impairment, he may be entitled to claim an impairment benefit regardless of whether the injury arose due to the fault of his employer at Insta-Coffees.
Before Barry can commence an impairment benefits claim, his injury must be permanent and stable. In other words, his psychological injury must be unlikely to substantially improve or deteriorate. As a result, an impairment benefits claim is typically not lodged until 12 months after suffering injury. In order to qualify for an impairment benefit, Barry must be assessed as having suffered a permanent psychiatric impairment of 30%.
Common law claim
If Barry is able to show that the injury he suffered was a result of his employer’s negligence, then he may be entitled to claim common law damages against his employer.
Common law claims are complex but provide more financial stability than WorkCover weekly payments. Therefore, even if you return to work on modified duties, like Barry, if your injury fails to improve, it is worthwhile to discuss the option of pursuing a Common law claim with a lawyer.
Some claims have strict time limits that apply so it is a good idea to speak to a lawyer before too much time has passed after your injury so you do not miss out on any compensation that you might be entitled to.
At Gordon Legal, we understand that it is imperative that you take the necessary time to heal and recover, and a key part of this is ensuring financial stability to recover without added stress. You do not have to go through the process alone. Get in touch with us today on 9603 3000, and let us handle your claim so you can focus on what is important.